July 24, 2015 by Pamela Nowak
My ESCAPING YESTERDAY heroine, Lottie, is a victim of incest and I thought I’d share some information on that topic. First, some staggering statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (www.rainn.org).
44% of rape/abuse/incest victims are under age 18. 29% are age 12-17. 15% are under age 12.
Girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused. 3% of boys in grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.
82% of all juvenile victims are female.
The year of a male’s life when he is most likely to be a victim is while age 4. The year of a female’s life when she is most likely to be a victim is while age 14.
In 1995, 126,000 children were identified as substantiated or indicated sexual abuse. Of these 75% were girls and nearly 30% were between the ages of 4 and 7.
One in nine girls and one in 53 boys under age 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.
93% of juvenile victims know their attacker and 34.2% were family members.
Approximately 4/5 of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim and 47% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.
Approximately 50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported to have occurred in the victim’s home or within one mile of the victim’s home.
7% take place in school.
The average age of a rapist is 31 years old.
A sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds.
The majority of sexual assaults are not reported to police—an average of 68% are NOT reported.
Sexual assault often leaves victims with lingering psychological issues which vary greatly from victim to victim. Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and can occur whether the assault was a single violent rape or ongoing childhood sexual abuse (or anything in between). Experts estimate over half of sexual assault victims suffer some level of RTS.
In rape victims, there are three stages of reaction to the trauma. Short-term responses can include sleep disturbances, nightmares, fear, suspiciousness, anxiety, major depression, and impaired social functioning. How victims react initially is largely determined by their unique emotional style with some expressing their feelings while others internalize and avoid their emotions, appearing as if nothing is amiss. During the intermediate phase, which occurs from three months to a year after the event, many victims experience depression and social/sexual dysfunction. As long-term effects appear, victims may experience anger, hyper-awareness to danger, continued sexual dysfunction, and an inability to enjoy life. Effects may last for years.
A variety of therapies have been found to lessen or eliminate RTS, including cognitive and behavioral therapies, relaxation, group therapy, hypnosis, couples therapy, and others. As in any therapeutic situation, the style and success of therapy varies with the individual involved.
Childhood sexual abuse differs in several ways from cases of a single violent rape attack upon an adult. According to www.rapevictimadvocates.org, childhood sexual abuse over a period of time usually involves five phases.
The Engagement Phase is non-violent in nature and often involves gifts, special treatment, money, or affection offered by the perpetrator to the victim. During this phase, the child often responds to what s/he perceives as an extension of love or caring. The child responds in kind, offering trust, affection, and love to the perpetrator. In some cases, where love is being denied by others, this response may be particularly strong.
As trust build, the relationship shifts to the Secrecy Phase. This builds upon subtle touching offered during the initial phase and adds a layer of coercion. The child is often asked to keep small “secrets” and, when s/he displays a willingness to do so (due to the love and trust built during engagement), the perpetrator begins to introduce more touching and limited sexual acts. If the child is resistant to keeping such acts a secret, guilt and shame are used with reminders that s/he has willingly participated.
In the Coercion Phase, there is increased pressure to keep the abuse secret. By this time, the sexual contact is advanced and threats of violence against the child or a loved one may be utilized. Lies are often used to convince the child of possible negative consequences if the secret is revealed. The level of guilt and shaming also intensifies.
As the abuse reaches the Disclosure Phase, either the child finds the capacity to tell someone or the abuse is discovered by someone. This phase may not occur for years, sometimes not until well after the abuse has ended and the child has become an adult.
The Validation Phase brings a form of closure as the victim’s feelings about the abuse are finally validated. This phase may require therapy in order to uncover deeply buried, highly complex emotions. It is extremely important for the victim to realize that blame for the abuse belongs to the perpetrator not the victim. If this phase occurs when the child is still in contact the perpetrator, the child must be protected from further abuse and/or retaliation.
Recovery from childhood sexual abuse is dependent upon four factors in addition to the unique personality of the victim.
The degree of intimacy and the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator has a large effect upon recovery. A huge percentage of such cases involve a person known to the victim and the most reported cases of incest involve a father and daughter relationship. In most incest cases, the entire family has dysfunctional relationships. These cases result in more trauma for the victim; the violation of trust, long-term threats to personal safety, and the sense of betrayal (at the non-intervention of other family members) complicates recovery immensely.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse also suffer more trauma when the abuse is long-term and repeated. While rape may involve a single violent episode, incest often occurs over a period of years and involves a high degree of psychological pressure. This pressure can result in confusion and guilt for the child victim, who generally lacks understanding of the events. That confusion and guilt shapes the survivor even as he or she becomes an adult.
The intrusiveness of the abuse also impacts recovery. Childhood sexual abuse takes many forms from sexual talk, exposure to pornography, and unwanted affection to fondling, oral sex, and penetration. Many cases involve all of these. The more intense and invasive the abuse, the more traumatic.
The way in which the child was introduced to the situation can also impact recovery. Many times, children are tricked into sexual activity rather than physically forced. As a child, they have no clear understanding they are being tricked and manipulated. As an adult, they often feel they should have known what was occurring and feel guilt for not having prevented it. Adding this form of guilt to the trust betrayal , confusion, and guilt over the act itself can create layers of additional issues.
As adults, we should all be aware of the possible indicators of abuse to a child. All indicators should be looked at in the context of what else is happening in the child’s life since they could indicate problems other than sexual abuse but should never be ignored because they all indicate SOMETHING is impacting the child’s well-being. This information is taken from www.rapevictimadvocates.org.
An unexplained drastic change in the comfort level a child has around a particular family member or other adult—be it attachment level or fear.
Abrupt changes in school or work performance.
Abrupt changes in socialization with friends—a disruption in pattern whether it be staying at home or being outside the house.
Avoidance responses to people or places that the child used to enjoy, usually extreme. May include a particular room in the house.
Sexualized behavior. May happen in front of others and may include masturbation, exposing of self, touching others, or sexual language.
Detailed language or knowledge of sexual activity that is not age or culture appropriate or has not been known to be taught within school or household.
Physical trauma such as bruises, scratches, genital itching or irritation with no explanation or explanation that doesn’t make sense
Signs of sexually transmitted disease or unexplained pregnancy
Tenderness or soreness around areas of penetration or blood in stool or urine that is frequent and unexplained
An intact hyman is not a sign that a female has not been abused or assaulted. Hymans often stay intact after loss of virginity.
There is so much information on this topic and I will revisit it in mid-August with a focus on the varied ways adult survivors of incest deal with many complex issues they encounter.
Next week, I’ll head back to Denver history with details about Denver’s Union Station. Each Friday, I will blog about some aspect of Elitch Gardens, early Denver, or other topics related to my next novel, Escaping Yesterday. In between, I will post small factoids on my Facebook page. You can join me there and I love new friends (https://www.facebook.com/pamela.nowak.142).
Due for release in September 2015, Escaping Yesterday is set in Elitch’s Gardens, in 1905, and follows the story of Lottie Chase. Lottie is willing to take any risk to save her daughter from their abusive uncle. Stranded in Denver, Lottie meets Caleb Hudson, manager at Elitch’s Gardens amusement park, who sees her as a manipulative huckster. Caleb, a veteran suffering from PTSD, craves the tranquility of the park’s gardens. Lottie brings anything but peace as she seeks to convince the owners to add thrill rides so she can collect the sales commission and support her daughter. Neither anticipates their growing passion, common demons, or the dangers they will face as they confront their pasts and free their love.